Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tragedy Laid to Rest

"The Munoz and Machado families will now proceed with the sombre task of laying Marlise Muniz's body to rest and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered."
"May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey."
Heather L. King, Jessica Hall Janicek, lawyers for Munoz family

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 file photo, Erick Munoz stands with an undated copy of a photograph of himself, left, with wife Marlise and their son Mateo, in Haltom City, Texas. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, issued a statement Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014 that said the hospital it will remove life support from Marlise Munoz, following a judge’s order that it was misapplying state law to disregard her family’s wishes. The statement did not say when the hospital would pull life support. (AP Photo/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ron T. Ennis, File)
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Eric Munoz stands with an undated copy of a photograph of himself, left, with wife Marlise and their son Mateo  Ron T. Ennis/The Associated Press

Judge R.H. Wallace Jr., of state District Court in Tarrant County, Texas was in agreement with the two lawyers, King and Janicek, representing Ms. Munuz's family, arguing that the John Peter Smith Hospital within the JPS Health Network misinterpreted Texas law. Ms. Munoz's husband Erick Munoz and her parents had asked the court to order the doctors in whose care their brain-dead wife and daughter was being kept on 'life support' because of a pregnancy, to have that support immediately terminated.

The hospital had agreed that Ms. Munoz was brain dead, meeting clinical criteria for brain death two days after being brought to the hospital in late November where she collapsed from a supposed pulmonary embolism. The hospital barred her husband and family from having her taken off a ventilator because she was at the time 14 weeks pregnant. It had been her wish to be removed from life support should such a situation arise, but the hospital's interpretation of an ambiguous Texas law dictated she 'not be permitted to die' while carrying a live fetus.

That she had already tragically died appeared to be of no concern to the hospital in their decision-making. "JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute", commented Jill Labbe, a hospital spokeswoman. On Friday, state district judge R.H. Wallace ordered she be removed from life support machines; the state law as it stood obviously did not apply to her because she was brain dead, and therefore legally dead.

The 31-year-old mother of a young boy who entered hospital with her second pregnancy at fourteen weeks' gestation, would have recoiled in horror at the nightmare that was to unfold when she suffered an apparent blood clot in her lungs, leading her life to slip away from her. At the time that the judicial decision was finally made to free her from the fantasy of 'life support', she was 22 weeks' pregnant, the fetus she was carrying identified as hugely abnormal.

Credit: Family photo
Erick Muñoz shared this image of his late wife Marlise playing in the pool with their son, Mateo.

Larry Thompson, an assistant district attorney, pointed to a section of the state penal code stating someone could commit criminal homicide by causing the death of a fetus and a recently passed bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy should be taken into account on the theory that a fetus was capable of feeling pain at that stage.

"[The law] must convey legislative intent to protect the unborn child, otherwise the Legislature would have simply allowed a pregnant patient to decide to let her life, and the life of her unborn child, end", he wrote in court documents. Lawyers for Ms. Munoz's husband asked the judge to consider whether hospitals would as a result be expected to build intensive-care units specifically for the purpose of ensuring that women on life support carry pregnancies through to term.

For two months the ethical, legal battle was fought over the right of a family to have their dead wife and child removed from the absurdity of maintaining a non-functioning, non-autonomous body as a breeding nest for an undeveloped fetus. Tests had divulged that the fetus was "distinctly abnormal, not viable, suffering from hydrocephalus and possibly a heart problem. The lower extremities were so deformed that gender could not be determined.

The National Black Prolife Coalition and Operation Rescue, both insisted the fetus deserved to be nurtured toward birth. People subscribing to belief that this was a situation that should be allowed to come to the 'natural conclusion' that the birth of the fetus would represent, offered to adopt the resulting infant, despite the disabilities anticipated.

The Texas law dating from 1989 as an obvious backlash to abortion rights in the United States, remains unclear. The single sentence, "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this sub-chapter from a pregnant patient", says nothing about the indignity to a human body utilizing it as a nurturing chamber even while the nurturer has been deprived of life; a bizarre and grotesque caricature of a humane, caring law.

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